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No Maine Farm Should Go Out Of Business During This Pandemic

We need local, sustainable agriculture more than ever. Here's how to make that happen.

March 27, 2020

By Sarah Alexander, MOFGA Executive Director
SPECIAL TO THE PORTLAND PRESS HERALD

As we figure out how to deal with day-to-day life during the coronavirus pandemic, we can be sure of one thing: We all need access to healthy, nutrient-dense food to help maintain our personal health.

Each day we get clear signs of the gaps in our local food system – empty store shelves, hungry children who rely on school meals and farmers who are concerned that they might go out of business because restaurants are closing.

Farms are still producing food every day – cows are being milked, greens are being grown, seeds are being planted – but Maine's critical processing, distribution and market systems are not set up to adequately get locally produced food into the hands of Mainers. Almost 90 percent of the food that Mainers consume comes from outside of our region, making us vulnerable to national and international interruptions in our food supply.

The first thing we can do is support our local food producers. Many farmers markets are adopting safety protocols and moving outside so that they can be safe pickup points for local food. While you should practice social distancing and send someone else to pick up food for you if you're sick, please continue to support these local markets.

Many farms are also setting up "no touch" farmstands where we can order directly from them and pick up a prepackaged bag of food at the farm. You can find the latest on mofga.org. Please check online first before going to a farm to ensure they're open and find out what procedures they've put in place.

In addition to supermarkets and food co-ops distributing more local products, restaurants that are doing takeout meals might also become a purchase and distribution point for local food.

The second urgent action we need is for Gov. Mills and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, as well as our congressional delegation, to make emergency funds available to farms so that not a single Maine farm goes out of business during this pandemic. The Small Business Administration loans that have been publicized currently are not available to agricultural businesses.

The state should also increase the funds that are going into the Mainers Feeding Mainers program, to ensure that those who need quality food the most can access it, and that our producers are paid a fair price for their goods.

The state should also allocate emergency funds to ramp up the aggregation, processing and distribution channels for Maine products. Organic milk producers have to ship all their milk outside of Maine to be processed. We need state-funded processing to make sure that Maine-produced food feeds Mainers.

Maine was the breadbasket of New England for much of our 200-year history as a state, but over the last 50 years, we've let our local food system decay. As corporations consolidated their control of the food industry, it became cheaper to produce processed food from factory farms and monocultures in the Midwest. Not only did this shift from a local and regional food economy to a global food system hurt our farms, but it hurt our public health, too.

As we see how vulnerable our food system is, now is the time to double down on supporting local farms. This virus will not be the last threat to feeding Mainers that we face, especially as the impacts of climate change and related environmental challenges compound. When we come out of this emergency, not only should every Maine farm still be in business, but our state also should be making the kind of investments needed to ensure that we have a reliable food system capable of supporting local producers and nourishing all Mainers in the future.

 

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